Remarks by Under Secretary Lago - August 21

Seattle, Washington
August 21, 2023

As Prepared for Delivery

Honorable ministers and guests, thank you for joining the 29th APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Ministerial Meeting in beautiful Seattle, Washington. The city of Seattle provides the perfect backdrop for our meeting, since it was here that APEC leaders met for the first time in 1993. Seattle, always a pioneering city, has in the 30 years since the first APEC leaders’ meeting, continued to evolve and prosper, placing the city on the leading edge of innovation, sustainability, and inclusive growth. 

We gather every year to share ideas and information, to exchange best practices, and to find more ways that we can work together to create a resilient and sustainable future for all. This is especially important for SMEs in the APEC region, which account for 97% of businesses and are truly the backbone of our APEC economies.

We must continue to uplift SMEs, increase the number and diversity of SMEs, and enable fair and competitive business environments to increase the resilience of SMEs. Supporting SMEs in an ever-changing world, especially SMEs owned by women and minority entrepreneurs, is crucial to ensure that the benefits of trade are not only long-lasting, but are felt more broadly and equitably throughout our economies.
Today’s meeting is inspired by our United States host year policy priorities: interconnected, innovative, and inclusive.

Establishing new connections and strengthening ties across the APEC region is at the heart of sustained economic recovery and is critical for growth and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.
Through APEC, we are supporting a trade environment in which MSMEs are empowered as leaders of innovation that can drive growth, sustainability, and competitiveness in our economies and in our communities.

And only by ensuring that all members of our societies can fully and equally participate in and benefit from an increasingly connected and globalized economy will we achieve an equitable and inclusive future for all.

Over the past several days, the United States and other APEC members have been putting these priorities into action through workshops and fora that have brought together policymakers, industry experts, academics, and many others. I am certain that we will leave these events with strengthened collaboration, a deeper collective knowledge, and a path forward to make global business easier, greener, and more resilient.
These past days’ programming has laid a solid foundation for today’s meeting. These conversations, workshops, and events have opened new doors, inspired new ideas, and forged new connections to advance our shared goals of interconnectedness, innovation, and inclusivity.
Yesterday, we came together with the High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy for a joint ministerial meeting. I expect that, like me, you found yesterday’s session to be thought-provoking and fascinating. And, I hope that, like me, you feel an urgent call to action to ensure greater integration and empowerment of women and women-owned businesses in the Asia Pacific region.
Yesterday, we also were excited to see many of you at a Digital Month signature event, the MSME Technology and Innovation Showcase. Participants gained insights from a dynamic range of public and private sector experts on issues and opportunities for MSMEs in fast-growing technology sectors that are driving global growth. The group examined trends in manufacturing technologies and shared innovation practices to help MSMEs overcome challenges and have a competitive edge in the technology sector.
And that brings us to today’s session. I am excited to welcome a few special guest speakers to join our discussion. Public-private sector collaboration is key to moving the needle on APEC priority issues, and this meeting features representatives from local Washington State small businesses who will illustrate the practical impact of the policy discussions that we will have around this table today. Warm thanks to each and every business owner for joining us. There is nothing more precious to a small business owner than time, so I am personally grateful that they’ve agreed to participate.
I think that we all agree that hearing from small businesses is crucial to our work. By learning about their entrepreneurial journeys, we gain insight into what drives success for small businesses and which persistent barriers to growth still exist.

In keeping with the theme of the United States’ three-pronged policy priorities for APEC: 

  • We must maintain the interconnectedness between government and small businesses, so that we in government can adapt the ways that we serve small businesses as priorities change. 
  • Small businesses are necessarily nimble. When they are supported and empowered, they can lead innovation, paving the way for positive change in our economies. We must work together to create the enabling environment that fosters innovation and boundary breaking by businesses, large and small. 
  • Finally, bringing small businesses to the table strengthens our efforts to create an inclusive future for all.

Together, we can forge pathways to growth for MSMEs, including those owned or led by individuals with unrealized economic potential, such as women, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, and those from remote and rural communities.